Looking at the Angels’ Potential 2017 Rotation: Part Two

Updated: October 7, 2016

In part one of this rotation preview, we took a look at the players the Angels currently have under contract for next season, how they finished out the season, and their potential role in the rotation going forward.

The Angels have some good, young, intriguing names on the roster now, and if everything went perfectly they would field a very competitive rotation. As this season taught us, though, things rarely go according to plan, and every name on the list comes with huge question marks.

With so many uncertainties, the Angels will most likely need to look at the free agent market for a player or two to bolster the rotation and add necessary depth to the staff overall. Today, we’ll take a look at potential free agents the Angels could make a run at, including a few familiar faces.

With Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano expected to return in 2017 from their respective Tommy John surgeries, the Angels are most likely only going to be in the market for a veteran stopgap; a reliable innings-eater on a one year contract, potentially with a club option attached for 2018 to protect against another injury or delays in Heaney or Tropeano’s recovery.

That’s a good thing, because this is a very weak class of free agent pitchers. We’ll start by looking at two pitchers the Angels could look to retain from this season.

Jered Weaver – Weave is no longer the ace he once was and is coming off the worst season of his career. Weaver posted his highest FIP(Fielding-Independent Pitching, a better indicator of a pitcher’s success, or lack thereof, because it attempts to only calculate that which is in the pitcher’s control) at 5.62, gave up a career high 209 hits and 106 runs in only 178 innings, and led the league in home runs allowed with a whopping thirty-seven.

Weaver struggled to adapt to his diminishing velocity, and pitched seven or more innings only five times in his thirty-one starts. At this point in his career, he just doesn’t bring that much value to a team. The one thing Weaver has generally been able to do is stay healthy, making no less than twenty-six starts in every season except for his rookie season, where he was a mid-season call up. He also carries more value with the Angels than he would for any other team, having played his entire career here.

Weaver is a leader in the clubhouse, a fan favorite, and also routinely pitches in pitcher-friendly parks in the A.L. West. When looking at the pitchers available on the free agent market, and considering the Angels’ needs, it does make some sense to offer Weaver a one year deal at no more than 3-4 million, with a club option for 2017. The biggest issue with Weaver, however, is if he would be willing to accept a bullpen role in the case all of the young pitchers do pan out. It doesn’t make sense to have Weaver in the rotation over a younger, better option, and nothing Weaver has said indicates he’s willing to accept anything less than a guaranteed rotation spot.

Jhoulys Chacin – Chacin was acquired in a trade early in the season, and spent the season bouncing back and forth from the rotation to the bullpen. Overall, he pitched much better from the bullpen than the rotation, but his few spot starts at the end of the season were solid.

If Chacin were willing to accept that he wouldn’t be guaranteed a rotation spot, the Angels would probably be better off signing him over Weaver, especially considering Chacin already has extensive experience pitching out of the bullpen, and has shown the ability to bounce back and forth and contribute quality innings in both roles. He also would most likely come cheaper, a two year deal at about three million a year would be reasonable.

Rich Hill – I know, I know, it doesn’t make sense to add to an already questionable and injury-riddled rotation with a pitcher who just made it to twenty starts and a hundred innings for the first time since 2007, never topping more than 57 innings between the two.

Those innings, though?  They were fire. Hill  had a 2.25 ERA/2.54 FIP, and 129 strikeouts in those innings, and when healthy has looked like one of the best pitchers in baseball. Despite the fact that he hasn’t stayed healthy for any significant amount of time and only made back-to-back starts a handful of times, Hill should receive a hefty contract from some desperate team. The Angels should not be that desperate team.

However, if Hill does not receive a multi-year deal to his liking, the Angels could swoop in and offer him a one year deal at a high salary, and hope to extract full value from him. If he stays healthy and the Angels aren’t competitive, they could  trade him, much like the Athletics were able to do this year. If the Angels are competitive and he stays healthy, they’ve got another asset they could at least extend a qualifying offer to at the end of the season.

If everything goes wrong and he’s hurt, the commitment is short, and the Angels only lost salary cap space for one season, while retaining that all-important flexibility for the 2017 free agent class. A one year deal at twenty to twenty five million seems outrageous, until you realize the Angels paid Weaver AND C.J. Wilson that much EACH, and if he stays healthy and the Angels are competitive, it would be money well spent.

Bartolo Colon – It’s been over ten years since Colon won the Cy Young award for the Angels, and here he is, still pitching effectively after all this time. At forty-three years old, Colon still is putting up 190 innings with a 3.99 FIP, winning fifteen games, hitting home runs, and generally being a joy to watch, and all for a playoff-bound team.

One of these days, Colon is going to hit a wall and stop pitching so well, but of all the possible free agent pitchers the Angels could add for a reasonable contract that fits their timeline and need, Colon is the one I’d be most excited to see, because he might do more things like this.

Jeremy Hellickson – Hellickson is the one pitcher that probably deserves a multi-year contract, and some team will give it to him. After winning the ROY in 2011, Hellickson has never been able to replicate his numbers from that year again, until this year.

Hellickson has been consistently solid for the Phillies all year long, putting up a 3.98 FIP over 189 innings. Hellickson is young enough and has enough of a track record to elicit strong interest on the free agent market, and adding a pitcher at his age and talent level does make some sense for the Angels, for this year and beyond.

Hellickson would add to a young and talented rotation, protect against injury concern, and add depth and talent when Heaney and Tropeano return. Hellickson doesn’t come without question marks of his own, and the Angels probably shouldn’t be willing to pay what Hellickson will demand on the market, but if the Angels are looking to sign a pitcher for multiple years and higher salary, Hellickson should be the one.

Andrew Cashner and Ivan Nova After Hellickson, these are probably the only other two pitchers worthy of a multi-year contract. Neither has been able to live up to the expectations placed on them, and while Nova pitched well for the Pirates down the stretch, both probably are just what they are at this point.

There is some hope that one or both could finally pitch up to their potential, but should the Angels be willing to pay fifteen to eighteen million to figure it out? Of the two, Cashner would be the most promising, and if a market doesn’t develop for him, maybe the Angels are able to swoop in and sign him for one to two years at around twelve million a year, a much more palatable amount for a pitcher that’s done what Cashner has done.

However, Cashner has already flamed out of a pitcher’s park (San Diego,) so improvement just may not be there. The Angels would most likely be better off staying away from multi-year commitments to any pitchers from this free agent class.

Hisashi Iwakuma Iwakuma is the only other pitcher I would consider for a multi-year pact, with one caveat – his second year should be a club option. Iwakuma pitched decently well for the Mariners on a one year deal, posting a 4.27 FIP over 199 innings while striking out 147 to forty-six walks. However, Iwakuma consistently appears unable to hold up over the full course of a season, consistently missing starts and seemingly running out of gas at the end of the season.

Iwakuma could be an asset as mid-rotation starter, but limiting his innings appears to be the best course of action, and you have to worry about injury with Iwakuma. Anything more than one year deal at about ten million with a club option for a second year would be risky.

The Bottom Line – There are other decent options available, but there are no sure things or players to really be excited about available on the market. Considering what’s available and what the Angels currently have, as well as accounting for Heaney and Tropeano’s return in ’17, re-signing Chacin for two years with the understanding he may end up in the bullpen and signing Colon for one season with a club option for a second would probably be the best course of action.

Weaver would need to not only concede to pitching out of the bullpen, but also prove he could be effective doing so, something Chacin and Colon already have done. When all is said and done, I think the Angels are best off sticking to the cheap and short-term side of things this offseason to retain as much flexibility as possibility for the potentially huge free agent class of 2017.  

A best-case scenario opening day rotation includes Garrett Richards, Matt Shoemaker, Tyler Skaggs, and Ricky Nolasco as the first four. The Angels are probably hoping that Alex Meyer steps up and seizes a spot in the rotation right from the start, with Daniel Wright in the minors as depth and pitchers like Chacin, Colon, and Cory Rasmus providing further rotation depth out of the bullpen.

If Meyer needs more time, however, one of those pitchers could step up into the rotation until he’s ready, or for the full season if need be to bridge that gap to Heaney and Tropeano. The Angels have a lot of options to add to the rotation cheaply, and this offseason will be interesting to see exactly how close to or far away from contending the Angels believe they are.

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